David Ellery August 06, 2012
Australia's military honours and awards system has degenerated into a political football, a Canberra historian says.
His views have been endorsed by a former chief of army who says any retrospective consideration of honours and awards is a mistake.
Both are critical of the government's decision to establish the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal inquiry into retrospective Victoria Crosses that closed last month.
Graham Wilson's Dust, Donkeys and Delusions was launched by former chief of army, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy (retired) in Fyshwick last week.
''The Australian honours and award system should not be a plaything for politicians, but that is what it has been allowed to degenerate into,'' Mr Wilson said.
General Leahy, now a professor at the University of Canberra, said any retrospective consideration of honours and awards was a mistake and military honours were ''no place for politicians or lobbyists''.
''These are matters for the authorities of the time. There is no place for hindsight, family emotion or the inability of politicians to say no to enthusiastic but nevertheless amateur historians.
''I am, for one, offended by the presumption of present day proponents of reconsideration that the authorities of the day were either malicious or incompetent.''
John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the subject of Mr Wilson's book, is high on the list of potential VC recipients under consideration by the tribunal.
He said he had been taken to task on air by 3AW presenter Derryn Hinch ''for trying to kill the Simpson myth'' in the book, just hours before the book launch. ''That's just not true; I'm not saying Simpson was less brave than his fellow stretcher bearers [at Gallipoli], what I am saying is that there is not a single shred of evidence he was even a scrap braver than them,'' he said.
General Leahy said Mr Wilson was game to take on the Simpson myth. ''Simpson occupies the position of one of the few real super heroes of Australian military history,'' he said.
''His statue stands guard outside the Australian War Memorial; every school kid knows [of] him … Many will disagree with Graham Wilson's conclusion Simpson should not be awarded the Victoria Cross. They will not be able to disagree with his meticulous research.''
General Leahy said the push for a pardon for Henry Harbord Morant (aka ''The Breaker'') and service adjustments for some RAN and RAAF personnel were other examples of pressure to rewrite history.
''Urgers of retrospective awards have applied enormous pressure to present day politicians who sadly just don't seem to be able to say no.''